Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan: “Sometimes I don’t believe it myself. Only six or seven years ago, it was just steppe here.”
Astana is a dream come true for the Kazakh president. One of the most astounding cityscapes between Beijing and Moscow has been erected in just 12 years, thanks to the energy-based wealth of the country as well as the political will of its leader, who has personally overseen all the planning aspects of this city of 800.000 inhabitants.
Nazarbayev: “I have great satisfaction in the fact that I had a leading role in every building, every street of the city. Many were sceptical. They didn’t believe that we could build this city. Astana was built to show what Kazakhstan is capable of, to unite Kazakhstan, to demonstrate we have a future and to introduce new technologies, in particular in the construction sector. It’s also to improve human relations.”
The head of City Planning told us that beyond the ultra modern design of acclaimed architects such as Kisho Kurokawa or Norman Foster, most buildings incorporate a typical Kazakh style, with rounded yurt-like shapes.
He stressed that for Astana, the coldest capital city on earth, with temperatures of minus 40 Celsius in winter, thermal insulation is fundamental.
Sagyndyk Djanbulatov, Director City Planning:
“We have been capable of building constructions that withstand extreme climatic conditions. The only difference between our buildings and those in Europe lies in the type of thermal insulation, but these are technical problems we can solve. Certainly the thermal insulation is about the same, except that we have to have triple pane windows. And the thickness of the walls has to be such that living conditions inside are comfortable.
“For ten years we built very quickly, but now I think we have to learn and study how to improve our construction technology, however hard it might be to do so, so that foreign visitors will say: you really have an extraordinary, unique style.”
The population of Astana is young and energetic. Ainash decided to move here and to establish a career as a TV journalist. Architecture is not just about glass, cement and steel, but also about people’s lives and dreams.
Ainash Chengelbaeva, journalist:
“I came to Astana from Almaty because here in our capital there is an interesting future with a lot of career possibilities, more chance to prosper and to reach your goals, which is very important for young people.”
Her appartment in many ways is a blast from the past – located in a drab concrete building from the Soviet times.
Ainash dreams of one day moving to a more modern flat.
“The government of course provides programs to resolve housing problems, but they are not really available to everyone. They are quite narrow and tend to only benefit government employees. Well, you have to really struggle to get to rent an appartment under these programs.”
But with the massive regeneration projects underway Ainash’s dreams could come true.
Like Ainash, almost half a million people have set up residence in this new capital over the last ten years.
Under the new plans Astana will double its population and surface in the coming 20 years.
Amanjol Chicanaiev, Manager, Astana Regional Development:
“We will be working on the reconstruction and the complete modernization of old buildings.”
Amanjol Chicanaiev supervises the future expansion of Astana, his task is to make sure that only the best architectural projects are chosen.
“In order that these constructions meet modern standards, we organize international tenders for architects.”
While the centre of gravity of the world moves further to the East, Astana will present itself as the capital that best connects Europe with Asia. For that to happen, Nazarbayev wants his city to become a paradigm of a new age in architecture.
“I think that within 10 or 20 years, Astana will be beautiful, a very comfortable city to live in, about which everyone will be talking.”
Astana, has just celebrated its 12th anniversary as capital of Kazahkstan, with the inauguration of numerous buildings. Construction works continue at a feverish pace, sidestepping the housing bubbles that have shaken cities around the world from Madrid to Abu Dhabi.
Constantino de Miguel, Euronews:
“From the balcony of his sumptuous palace, president Nazarbayev enjoys an excellent view, a superb show of futuristic architecture and urbanism. It’s hard to say how long this dream, this utopia, his utopia, will last. But what is sure is that the gale of the housing crisis has not yet blown over the steppe on which Astana rises.”